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Self Reliance Poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson Poem Hunter YouMeWorks com
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In December 1839 Emerson gave two lectures on literature as part of a series called "The Present Age," much of the material of which went into a paper called "Thoughts on Modern Literature," published in the in October 1840 and reprinted in (1893). Here Emerson lists, in order of importance, three classes of literature. "The highest class of books are those which express the moral element; the next, works of imagination; and the next, works of science." Though he calls "the first literary genius of the world, the highest in whom the moral is not the predominating element," he insists that 's work "leans on the Bible: his poetry supposes it." By contrast, "the Prophets do not imply the existence of or ." is secondary, the prophets of the Bible are primary. These views compensate and balance those in the Divinity School address. Indeed seems to have been intended by Emerson as a sort of corrective of some of his early views and various misinterpretations of them. One of the best things in "Thoughts on Modern Literature" is a long and very specific treatment of the problem of subjectivity. Defending the subjectivism of the age, Emerson is at great pains to distinguish true subjectivism (the right of each single soul, each subject "I" to "sit in judgment on history and literature, and to summon all facts and parties before its tribunal") from narrow-minded insistence on one's own personality or mere "intellectual selfishness." "A man may say , and never refer to himself as an individual," says Emerson in a phrase that prefigures his concept of the representative poet.
torieliason Essay Self Reliance Ralph Emerson
Emerson encompasses a lot of different ideas in his essay “Self-Reliance.” He writes about a man’s genius, self-expression, conformity, society, virtues, man’s nature, and what it actually is to be self-reliant....
His contributions to literary criticism begin with the lecture called "Milton," given first in February 1835. Many of what would become Emerson's characteristic emphases are already evident in the lecture. What Emerson really values in is not his high critical reputation but his power to inspire, which is, Emerson says, greater than that of any other writer. "We think no man can be named, whose mind still acts on the cultivated intellect of England and America with an energy comparable to that of ." "Power," "energy," "inspiration": these are the qualities Emerson looks for in a work of literature or in an author. Indeed Emerson is always more interested in the author than the text, and he quotes with approval 's comment that "he who would aspire to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things." Emerson would say later that the reader ought to think of himself as the text and books as the commentary.
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The longest essay in is "Poetry and Imagination." It is a fully developed piece, longer in fact than the 1836 book, , and important as the last major restatement and reaffirmation of Emerson's conception of the literary process as one of symbolizing. "A good symbol is the best argument," he writes and explains why. "The value of a trope is that the hearer is one; and indeed Nature itself is a vast trope, and all particular natures are tropes.... All thinking is analogising, and 'tis the use of life to learn metonomy." If we are symbols and nature is symbol, then what is the reality behind or sustaining the symbols? Emerson's reply is "process." "The endless passing of one element into new forms, the incessant metamorphosis, explains the rank which the imagination holds in our catalogue of mental powers. The imagination is the reader of these [symbolic] forms. The poet accounts all productions and changes of Nature as the nouns of language, uses them representatively." The result is that "every new object so seen gives a shock of agreeable surprise." "Poetry," Emerson concludes, "is the only verity.... As a power, it is the perception of the symbolic character of things, and the treating them as representative," and he quotes to the same end.
Emerson's final word is reserved for Goethe not Faust, the creator not the creation, and what he says of Goethe is true of Emerson himself. "Goethe teaches courage, and the equivalence of all times.... We too must write Bibles, to unite again the heavens and the earthly world. The secret of genius is to suffer no fiction to exist for us; to realize all that we know; in the high refinement of modern life, in art, in sciences, in books, in men, to exact good faith, reality and a purpose; and first, last, midst and without end, to honor every truth by use." Thus, Emerson, like most critics who get their bearings from , has little to say about fiction, about the novel. Fiction he regarded as unreal, but poetry was for him, "the science of the real." In his later writings, while he would comment on novels and romances occasionally, he continued to deepen and widen his conception of poetry.
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Self-reliance is its aversion" (Emerson, 21).
"The Poet" also suggests the true function of the critic. "And herein is the legitimation of criticism, in the mind's faith, that the poems are a corrupt version of some text in nature, with which they ought to be made to tally." Emerson, however, is still more interested in the function of the poet than in the text, and he goes on now to explain that so many poets flirt with intoxication because they are really trying to tap into a realm of experience larger than that offered by their own private lives. Whether we think of it as the world-soul, or collective consciousness, or the oversoul, the poet must transcend his own limited and personal experience in order to participate in the broader experience of the common human spirit. In an important--and difficult--passage, Emerson says, "it is a secret which every intellectual man quickly learns, that beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect, he is capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), by abandonment to the nature of things; that, besides his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power, on which he can draw...."
The Importance of Self-Reliance.
There is more in the essay on the origin of words. "The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture," Emerson says, in a passage that was noted by Richard Trench, the English author who first suggested the idea of the . "Language is fossil poetry," Emerson explains, saying that "Language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin." Coleridge had linked genius to organic form, saying genius was the mind's "power of acting creatively under laws of its own origination." Emerson now links genius with the revival and renewal of language. "Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things," he says, and the epigrammatic force of his own language pushes back against entropy itself.
When someone is self-reliant they are completely Independent.
had claimed that education, reflection, and self-cultivation lead us to invert "the vulgar views of nature, and brings the mind to call ... that real, which it use[d] to call visionary." Now Emerson pushes one step further, poetry is "the science of the real," which is to say that it is not concerned so much with the material or the phenomenal as it is with underlying laws. Emerson had made this stand clear in earlier essays, but in "The Poet" he discusses more fully the poet's use of language. The poet must not only use words, but he must be able to use things--nature--as a language. "Nature offers all her creatures to him as a picture language," Emerson says. "Things admit of being used as symbols, because nature is a symbol, in the whole and in every part." If the student asks what nature is symbolic of, the answer is, symbolic of the human spirit. "The universe is the externalization of the soul." This idea, too, had been said by Emerson before, though not with such epigrammatic authority. What really happens in poetic practice is suggested by Emerson when he says, "the world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it." What the poet realizes is that not only words and things, but "we are symbols, and inhabit symbols."
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